Coronavirus Business Series: Learn from this B2B manufacturer’s corporate office reopening

When the local mayor issued a safer-at-home order in early April, UltraTech International’s leaders  weren't sure if they'd have to halt business and close down their office, where 30 employees work each day.

“We quickly researched exemption status and found that we met the requirements to stay open as an essential business," said Matt Shaw, EVP of UltraTech.

As a B2B manufacturer of environmental compliance products and advanced technologies, UltraTech supplies other essential businesses. However, its staff does not interact with the general public.

Making workers safer—and productive—at home for the first time

“Even though we're considered essential, we still asked two-thirds of our employees to work remotely so we could ensure maximum workplace safety," Shaw said.

From April on, a group limited to 10 employees continued working from the office. 

The other 20 employees worked from home — a new challenge for UltraTech and most of its staff members who have never operated remotely before.

Shaw not only swiftly adapted UltraTech’s business operations, but also created comfortable home office settings for his team by: 

  • Purchasing additional laptops
  • setting up each employee's VPN profile among other software
  • ensuring that each employee had an additional computer monitor

Creating a strong safety culture for in-office employees

Even before the safer-at-home COVID-19 order, UltraTech prioritized implementing new safety procedures to maintain a healthy environment and create a strong safety culture for its employees.

“We had begun a new disinfecting schedule, wiping down common areas four times each day," said Shaw. “We also started using various measures to practice social distancing."

To promote social distancing and a safe in-office work environment, UltraTech ensured that:

  • Hand-sanitizing stations were accessible in common areas, 
  • Signs hung announcing that only one person should use a common area at a time 
  • Employees wouldn’t crowd together in the main kitchen by installing a temporary, additional kitchenette
  • Company catered lunches were individually boxed for workers to reduce COVID-19 transmission risk
  • Meetings were conducted digitally and experienced at employee’s own cubicles—eliminating in-person conference room gatherings. 

Words of wisdom for reopening your corporate business office

Though the local safer-at-home order wasn't lifted until early May, UltraTech didn't invite employees back until June 1. 

However, employees at high risk and those with children at home continue to work from home.

“Before we made the decision to have everyone come back, we took a pulse of how our employees felt about having everyone return to the office," Shaw said. “This helped us better prepare to address any concerns, and we were glad to hear that some were very excited to return to our office atmosphere."

1. Create a regular communication channel for COVID-related updates

Shaw sends out regular updates via email to employees.

He always uses the same subject line, updating the date only and he formats the email in the same way with clear, concise, bulleted information and guidelines. 

This format consistency ensures that employees can easily get the information they need and can get used to digesting it in this way. 

Whenever information in the email is updated, Shaw highlights the changes to emphasize the information for workers.

2. Form an employee COVID committee

After reflecting on the chaos of the past few months, Shaw recommends going one step further than his team did by establishing an employee committee that enables two-way communication. 

“We contacted some employees to discuss their comfort levels prior to inviting everyone back, but it would have been helpful to have had key people representing each of their departments." 

He notes that committee members could act as employee liaisons, helping employers understand how other team members are feeling, while also sharing important updates with their departments.

3. Implement digital communication tools — even for those in-office. 

UltraTech began using Microsoft Teams for quick communication among colleagues. 

Shaw said that this aids social distancing by cutting back on the need for face-to-face interactions.

4. Plan for the contingency of employees and/or their loved ones testing positive for COVID-19

A few weeks after returning to the office, some employees learned that they had been in contact with COVID-19 positive people. 

These employees wanted to know what they should do to keep their coworkers safe. 

Shaw recommends proactively planning for this scenario and sharing guidelines with employees before the issue arises to help prevent any health risks from flying under the radar.

Quick corporate business office health and safety tips

Before you invite employees back into your offices, consider the following ideas for your COVID-19 health and safety plan:

1. Deep clean your office.

2. Develop and share social-distancing guidelines specific to your office and its common areas.

3. Prepare your office for social distancing. 

Rearrange furniture as needed. Develop and share new social distancing guidelines, especially for common areas such as meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms. Post signage as a reminder where needed.

4. Add hand-sanitizing stations around the office, especially near common areas.

5. Make disinfectant easily available to employees 

Easy access encourages employees to maintain clean and sanitized personal work areas. 

6. Schedule frequent disinfectant wipe downs of common areas and deep cleanings of your entire office.

7. Create a regular communication with a consistent format or platform medium to share updates with your employees.

8. Ask your employees about their comfort levels and respond accordingly. 

9. UltraTech encouraged any workers with health concerns or children at home to continue working remotely.

10. Check employees' temperatures with a touchless thermometer daily upon arrival. 

Ask anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater to return home immediately and to work from there if they feel well enough.

11. Start using a digital tool for instant communication

Tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack allow your employees to remain within their own socially distant spaces as much as possible, rather than physically visiting one another's work areas.

12. Actively limit in-person meetings, even when employees return to the office. 

Consider asking employees to continue meeting from their own workspaces using web-conferencing tools.

13. Implement safety and social distancing requirements for visitors.

UltraTech checks every visitors' temperatures upon arrival and requires them to fill out a health screening form to record:

  •  Any symptoms,
  • Recent travel ,
  • and contact with people displaying possible symptoms.

14. Create and communicate a protocol for what to do if an employee or someone close to them tests positive for COVID-19.

15. Finally, be prepared for ever-shifting local guidelines and mandates as the world — and your locality — navigates its response to COVID-19. 

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